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Smart bombs, smart bullets – now guided smart artillery shells, thanks to DARPA dosh

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The USA way of doing things

It is the USA way of doing things.

The design philosophy is: "You make the smartest super-duper ultra-guided fire and forget shell/missile/bullet".

If you compare this to what Russians, Israeli, even French do - they use multiple relatively dumb multiple pursuers and some intelligence in the fire control on where to place the pursuers initially. Instead of really hairy engineering and 1M lines of code for a single ultra-intelligent shell, you use a few pages of really hairy math and some algos to solve numerically particularly nasty differential equations. High up-front cost, very low cost of the actual weapons themselves.

If you compare both mathematically, you get significantly higher kill probability with the second approach at a fraction of the cost. It is trivial to prove too - various proofs both from game theory and from optimal control exist for that going about 30 years back.

If we apply game theory to the "meeting of minds"... Err... I am not sure I like the results. In fact I seriously dislike the results, because the second approach is likely to win every time. Time to tell the yanks to keep their stuff to themselves and buy some weapons from Israel, Turkey, Germany, Sweden or somewhere else (*).

(*)UK is missing in that list because BAE is so engrossed in fitting into the American weapons design gestalt that it is by all means an American company. It talks like a USA arms supplier, it thinks like a USA arms supplier, it is in fact a USA arms supplier - nothing British about it at design level.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

These contracts are just "keep smart people working for our side" bags of money to keep people working in the defense industry and for the US, in hopes they will come up with some smart stuff along the way that can be used in other projects. Looking at the actually deployed US arsenal very little of this "smart" stuff actually makes it to the battlefield. Much of the actual kit is much more along the second approach you describe. And yes, a Javelin is much more expensive than an Soviet RPG-7. Firing at and hitting a tank hidden behind a hill with a top down attack from a few hundred yards away is however a massive advantage.

Yes, the US relies more on technology vs. for instance the Russian/Soviet tactic of easy to build and large numbers but in the end the question over which approach is better is still an open question since the cold war thankfully remained only lukewarm at best. The US simply doesn't have the sheer disregard for the lives of it's soldiers to go with the Soviet "Throw another battalion at it and see if it sticks" approach.

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Mushroom

Re: The USA way of doing things

T34 v Tiger 5. In the end experience, training and numbers count for a lot.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

You know you play too much 40K when you read a post and think, that's Tau v Necrons.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The USA way of doing things

The design philosophy is: "You make the smartest super-duper ultra-guided fire and forget shell/missile/bullet"

Actually Americans seem to have this continuous urge to develop high-tech solutions to relatively low-tech problems.

A case to point: NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen American astronauts could use in micro-gravity conditions (convention pens use gravity to feed ink into the nib). Russian cosmonauts used a pencil.

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Paris Hilton

Re: The USA way of doing things

> Russian cosmonauts used a pencil.

I may be wrong, but I heard that either NASA was worried about this, or the Russkies didn't care, but using a pencil meant little flakes of graphite floating around in the vehicle, which could potentially lead to a short-circuit. Happy to be corrected on this.

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Mushroom

Re: The USA way of doing things

We need an IoB - Internet of Bullets. When they strike a target, they report back on what damage they did, what trajectory they used to get there, and other diagnostics to help the fire-control AI decide whether or not to aim more shit that way.

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Boffin

Re: The USA way of doing things

This is a story which will not die no matter how many times it is put down. A private company developed the pen, not NASA who bought them for a few dollars. Plus there is suppose to be a problem with flakes of graphite causing electrical problems.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

Anything which can come lose and get stuck can't be allowed in certain environments, air force pilots aren't allowed to take the lid of a pen for instance in case it becomes lose and moves around the cockpit whilst manoeuvring.

http://fodprevention.com/fod-information/

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Re: The USA way of doing things

It's a change of mind. The Jeep, the Sherman and most of WW2 stuff was made following the opposite philosophy: maybe not the best but available en masse.

I guess lobbyists made a great job.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

T34 v Tiger 5. In the end experience, training and numbers count for a lot

Yes, but given a choice, you would rather be a crewman of a Tiger 5.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

Russian cosmonauts used a pencil.

And thats why the Russians lost the space race. The Americans used it as a way of pushing all their tech beyond what was obviously needed. The Russians were happy with 'Good enough', and so got overtaken from their head start.

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Terminator

Re: The USA way of doing things

The most important objective of almost all major western weapons programs is that large amounts of the taxpayers' money is funneled to a small number of the right (already very wealthy) people.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"T34 v Tiger 5. In the end experience, training and numbers count for a lot."

Well, numbers certainly. Russian crews weren't better trained than their German counterparts, nor were they usually more experienced, often the complete opposite. What counted was the sheer number of T34 tanks built (roughly 80,000 in total including the t34-85) compared to 1350 or so Tigers, and their mechanical simplicity. If the Russians lost 400 tanks they were replaced within weeks, Tigers and Panthers took months to recover losses. In addition the German tanks suffered from underpowered engines which led to battlefield breakdowns, along with fuel shortages, disrupted communication and transport.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"A case to point: NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen American astronauts could use in micro-gravity conditions (convention pens use gravity to feed ink into the nib). Russian cosmonauts used a pencil."

Largely a modern myth. See the text below.

During the first NASA missions the astronauts used pencils. For Project Gemini, for example, NASA ordered mechanical pencils in 1965 from Tycam Engineering Manufacturing, Inc., in Houston. The fixed price contract purchased 34 units at a total cost of $4,382.50, or $128.89 per unit. That created something of a controversy at the time, as many people believed it was a frivolous expense. NASA backtracked immediately and equipped the astronauts with less costly items.

During this time period, Paul C. Fisher of the Fisher Pen Co. designed a ballpoint pen that would operate better in the unique environment of space. His new pen, with a pressurized ink cartridge, functioned in a weightless environment, underwater, in other liquids, and in temperature extremes ranging from -50 F to +400 F.

Fisher developed his space pen with no NASA funding. The company reportedly invested about $1 million of its own funds in the effort then patented its product and cornered the market as a result.

Fisher offered the pens to NASA in 1965, but, because of the earlier controversy, the agency was hesitant in its approach. In 1967, after rigorous tests, NASA managers agreed to equip the Apollo astronauts with these pens.

**Media reports indicate that approximately 400 pens were purchased from Fisher at $6 per unit for Project Apollo. **

The Soviet Union also purchased 100 of the Fisher pens, and 1,000 ink cartridges, in February 1969, for use on its Soyuz space flights. Previously, its cosmonauts had been using grease pencils to write in orbit.

Both American astronauts and Soviet/Russian cosmonauts have continued to use these pens.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

I remember reading an interview with an engineer who worked on the new US Aarmy jeep. They did design it to be more advanced with a smaller turning circle, hard point that could take a variety of weapons etc etc but they also ensured that they used little to no completely new components so that spares would be widely available and maintenance crews would need a minimum of training.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

A case to point: NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen

Not NASA. Parker, unsolicited and tried to sell it to NASA which surprise, surprise used a pencil.

As far as Americans trying to stick an ungodly amount of tech into anything, that is mostly limited to weapons research. It is also fairly recent - f.e they did not do it in WW2.

It is unfair and incorrect to generalize that over all of the USA.

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Boffin

Re: The USA way of doing things

"And that's why the Russians lost the space race."

No. The Soviets* didn't land a person on the moon for various inter-related reasons which can be summed up as "politics within the Soviet space industry".

If you want a more in depth answer I recommend "Challenge to Apollo" by Asif Siddiqui

* not just the Russians back then

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Stop

Re: The USA way of doing things

"A case to point: NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen American astronauts could use in micro-gravity conditions (convention pens use gravity to feed ink into the nib). Russian cosmonauts used a pencil."

This story is apocryphal but it reads well so simply wont die.

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Childcatcher

Re: The USA way of doing things

These contracts are just "keep smart people working for our side" bags of money to keep people working in the defense industry and for the US...

DARPA projects are always long shots - pun intended - for success. Basic R&D is on average high cost and low return, so the price tag on this should come as no surprise. Beyond the stated goal, there is almost always additional applications to which the tech under development by DARPA can be put. At least one thing springs to mind in this case: guided rail gun shells. It has always been the goal of the rail gun project to have a high rate of fire, long range, very accurate weapon. Pretty much everything I have read that talks about the program as a whole, not just about the development of one aspect of it, includes a mention that the shells will be guided. It's the gift that just keeps giving.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

T34 v Tiger 5. In the end experience, training and numbers

Actually, mostly numbers and strategy to match.

When Germans captured T26s and BTs in Spain and later early T34s and BT7 in USSR they were horrified. It could do (barely) 300-500km on one chainset, needed full fluid change and complete transmission and engine overhaul after 500km, etc. The could not "get it" how you can fight a war in this. Well, they should have just picked up Tuhachevski's papers off the shelf and read them (Guderian actually did, but by that point nobody listened to him).

According to Tuhachevski's analysis war is a rhythmic affair (there is nothing new here, you can find some of these ideas going back to Von Clausevits and "Der Crieg"). it is not continuous, especially when fighting over large territory. You attack, consolidate your gains and defend your positions, regroup, give your troups a rest, replenish resources, then attack again. There ain't such thing as continuous BlitzKrieg in a war theater the size of Russia or the whole of Europe. When you do this using modern tank warfare (according to Tuhachevski and those of his students Stalin missed to execute), you should couple this rhythm to the maintenance cycle. Attack, establish new positions, put all tanks in a field garage for an oil change, chain change and transmission overhaul. If need be, replace the whole tank. Then do it again. T34 was literally built to match this strategy pattern.

If you look at it Russians were very badly beaten in WW2 when they deviated from this songsheet, in the summer of 41 and the summer of 42 (Harkov) because the clue-less homicidal vicar offspring could not add 2 and 2 strategywize and ordered the impossible. When he was pushed aside, the ones who knew the songbook and played by it kicked the German's ass. If you look at the whole war from winter of 42 onwards Russians played it strictly by this book including a number of cases where they refused to comply with allied requests to advance. In reality they could not - you cannot advance when half of your tanks are in bits in a garage or waiting for their turn to be in bits.

The moral of this story is - super duper weapons are useless against reasonable weapons in big numbers combined with appropriate strategy. In fact USA used this themselves - they used numbers in tank, aviation and naval warfare same as Russians in WW2. Germans had the better weapons by far - jets, tanks, ultra long range artillery, submarines, missiles - you name it. It did not help them in the slightest.

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Stop

Re: The USA way of doing things

If you want to show an example of excessive complexity in the face of practicality the U.S. government has given plenty of actual examples. Try using one of them and stop spreading the completely FALSE myth of the multi million dollar NASA pen.

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/fact-or-fiction-nasa-spen/

Both Astronauts and Cosmonauts used pencils originally. Since the 1960's both have used the space pen which was privately developed by the manufacturer for about $1million without NASA involvement.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

In the middle of a clearly-written explanation of some history of which I (for one) am not familiar with, you refer to : "clue-less homicidal vicar offspring"

Please could you please avoid such a jarring break from clarity and say who you actually mean?

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Re: The USA way of doing things

Just a comment re the USA aspect: I recently saw a UK Raytheon job advert for people to work on their targeting toolset.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"Plus there is suppose to be a problem with flakes of graphite causing electrical problems."

Don't forget that the US space capsule had a 100% oxygen atmosphere. Small particles of graphite floating around were not a good idea. Apollo 1 tragically demonstrated the effect of a capsule fire.

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@imanidiot - US doesn't have "sheer disgregard for the lives of its soldiers"

Making soldiers safer has a cost beyond the dollars it costs to do that - it makes war more acceptable the more you think casualties will only affect the other side. If war was still as terrible as WW I trench warfare, I think we'd be involved in a lot fewer wars.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

> The design philosophy is: "You make the smartest super-duper ultra-guided fire and forget shell/missile/bullet".

Someone please remind me which group did that in the last big war we had?

Oh yes. The Nazis. (And they lost, because they invested so much time and effort into those uberweapons that they effectively bankrupted other procurements and allowed the opposition to overwhelm them by swarming)

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Re: The USA way of doing things

" It talks like a USA arms supplier, it thinks like a USA arms supplier, it is in fact a USA arms supplier - nothing British about it at design level."

It's american owned/headquartered, therefore it's a USA arms supplier by definition,

The B in BAE is merely a historic hangover which will be rectified in time.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

> A private company developed the pen, not NASA who bought them for a few dollars.

Ditto for Velcro and Teflon.

The watches chosen to go to the moon were picked by the expedient of going into downtown Houston and picking out a few which looked likely to be able to take the abuse and be workable whilst wearing gloves. Now they're £4000 apiece.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

> which can be summed up as "politics within the Soviet space industry".

That and breaking the cardinal rule of rocketry.

"Never fuel the thing when there are people around, no matter how much of a hurry you are in"

The Brazilians failed to heed that lesson more recently and lost virtually their entire space program engineering pool as a result.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

Pretty sure there was only Tiger I and Tiger IIs with variants of both models, the Tiger I was in some cases designated the Panzer IV but the Panzer V was a Panther.

The Tiger was good becuse of it's firepower and armour plus the training of it's crews, Tigers often had drive train problems and with relatively narrow tracks compared to the T 34 were less useable in snow and boggy terrain in spring in Eastern Europe. There is no official record of it's 100mm frontal armour ever having been pierced in combat by any allied tank, the Brits and Yanks used to use the Sherman's superior mobility to try to outflank a Tiger and then to hit it in the weaker side and rear armour. Not much fun while the Tiger was shooting at them with a gun that could penetrate most allied tanks at up to a mile and a half.

Typically it would cost several allied tanks to kill one Tiger (for all it's faults, and it had a few).

On a side note the Russians no longer have the human wave tactic on it's books, WW II cost them some 25 million people, the attitude is to not commit to all out (conventional) war without a reasonable certainty of not repeating that figure, of course that doesn't rule out Nuclear M.A.D.

My wife is Russian and I have family who are or have been in the Russian military at various levels.

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Unhappy

The B in BAE is merely a historic hangover which will be rectified in time.

Along with their unlimited access to the British Prime Minister.

I don't think even the CEO of LM has that right.

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Re: @DougS - US doesn't have "sheer disgregard for the lives of its soldiers"

@DougS, why put those quote marks in? They are not in my post and it seems to imply you think I said the opposite of what I was saying. In WW2 it's certainly the case that the US realised the point about massive amounts of casualties much more than the Soviets. Which was my original point.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"These contracts are just "keep smart people working for our side" bags of money to keep people working in the defense industry and for the US, in hopes they will come up with some smart stuff along the way that can be used in other projects."

Quite possible. The guidance system for the Tomahawk was originally developed for Project Pluto.

The US arms industry does have a culture of brute force, though. About 20 years ago I was talking to Robert Bouchard* over lunch, and I remember that he favored displacement over revs in engine design and had a high opinion of Henschel tanks.

Out penchant for complexity may have a bit to do with the German engineers that we inherited after the war. Earlier planes like the Wildcat (Martlet) were dead simple, and our admirals spoke warmly about their ability to launch more planes per minute with a handful of escort carriers than with a single fleet carrier that cost more than the whole pack of them.

(*He was their chief manufacturing engineer at the time, and I believe later their chief engineer. His son Rob also works there.)

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"A case to point: NASA spent millions of dollars developing a pen American astronauts could use in micro-gravity conditions"

Nope. They both used grease pencils.

The Fisher Pen Co. developed a pen that would write in any position, on their own, no funding, and NASA started using those after they tested out OK for zero gravity use.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

I came across a (probably apocryphal) story that a German tank officer was being interrogated after surrendering. He is said to have stated, "Our Panzers were worth ten of your Shermans, but you always seemed to have eleven of them."

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Re: The USA way of doing things

clue-less homicidial vicar offspring probably refers to Joe Stalin. However, Stalin's father was a cobbler, and a bad one. Stalin was the one who went to seminary. And, while he was homicidial, killing more people than Hitler, he wasn't clueless.

Stalin remains my fav example of why it's a bad idea to force religion on those who really aren't interested. (Stupid autocorrect tried to put 'Stallman' instead of 'Stalin'. I nearly let it stand.)

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"T34 v Tiger 5. In the end experience, training and numbers count for a lot."

I'm not sure that I understand that post. If it's about Kursk and subsequent WW2 tank battles, don't fuel availability and consumption, along with command of space and the supply of US trucks, have quite a bit to do with it?

Battles may be won by technical factors but wars tend to be won or lost by boring old logistics and supply problems.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"If you look at it Russians were very badly beaten in WW2 when they deviated from this songsheet"

This is an interesting account but it deviates from everything I've read about the Eastern front in WW2. The USSR lost most of its "western" tanks in the first stages of the war, so any maintenance planning was a bit affected by being overrun by the Germans. Von Guderian was quick to recognise the threat of the T34, especially as he was anticipating an unknown heavy tank. The Germans ran into problems partly because their own inflexible maintenance procedures stopped working in the sheer amount of space in European Russia. Russian contraction meant that logistics were less of a problem until the war went the other way and they were running out of ability to maintain equipment as they advanced into Germany. The halt before Warsaw is believed to have been political rather than logistic; Stalin didn't want any Poles around taking any credit.

A key factor in the early success of the T34 was that the engineers at the factory considered that the specified gun was inadequate and so simply fitted a better one when they failed to get approval from Moscow. The Germans, on the other hand, although Hitler wanted a better gun for the Mk. 3, lost it in the bureaucracy, and by the time they really caught up Russian tank development was in full swing. The T34 engine steadily improved its life between services during WW2.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"He is said to have stated, "Our Panzers were worth ten of your Shermans, but you always seemed to have eleven of them.""

My informant for the Normandy campaign said it wasn't the Shermans that did for Tigers but the Mustangs that the Shermans could radio in to deal with them after identifying where they were concealed. Ground-air co-operation was very important.

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Re: @DougS - US doesn't have "sheer disgregard for the lives of its soldiers"

I put the quote marks in because I was quoting you.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

My post should have read:

"About 20 years ago I was talking to [Lockheed's] Robert Bouchard over lunch...

He was their chief manufacturing engineer at the time."

I re-worded things and somehow dropped his tie-in to the industry.

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Devil

Re: The USA way of doing things

Typically it would cost several allied tanks to kill one Tiger (for all it's faults, and it had a few).

With one exception - if it was unfortunate to run into a Zveroboi ambush. This was the only piece of equipment allies had which could kill a Tiger from any angle including frontal with one shot. It simply ripped its whole gun touret out if it hit. Superweapon engineering? Why bother, just use some really, really really brute force.

Going back to the overall topic - what happens when a superweapon meets a piece of low tech using the principle "do not force it, use a MUCH larger hammer". The superweapon has its head ripped off.

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Re: The USA way of doing things

"the clue-less homicidal vicar offspring could not add 2 and 2 strategywize and ordered the impossible"

Why bring Theresa May into this?

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Re: The USA way of doing things

[As I learned from another recent Register posting ...] the Brits upgraded a proportion of their Shermans with a 17-pounder cannon that could take on the Tigers, frontally..

http://www.tanks-encyclopedia.com/ww2/gb/Sherman_Firefly.php

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sherman_Firefly

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Meh

Yuck

That's one of the worst shoehorned acronyms I've ever seen

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Anonymous Coward

50km, 1/2 km or 1/2 mile accuracy?

Erm... "accuracy with a range of 50 kilometres (0.62 miles)."

1/2 a KM = 0.31 miles or 3563.628 Linguine

0.62 miles = (ish) 0.99 kms or 108.2347 Double-deckers

or is it accurate to 50km!?

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